Journal

Camp Harlam Pt. 1

If you didn’t know from my continuous inactivity on most if not all social media, I’ve been in America for the last three months. How this came about initially was a stroke of luck, running in to USA Summer Camps at a job fair for my university materialised itself into one of the best and most exciting journeys of my life. My decision to work at a summer camp from June to September was an extremely random one initially and mainly due to me wanting relevant experience in my area of interest. Little did I know however that the step that I was about to take would change me forever. I know dramatic right, but this mystical place nestled in the heart of Pocono Mountains in Kunkletown, PA would become one of the best locations that I would ever see and help me meet some of the best people that I would ever have the opportunity to call my friends.

June 17th 2017 finally arrived, it was the day that my trip from Ripon, North Yorkshire all the way to Pennsylvania was about to begin. The long application process, waiting to be hired, collecting my visa and what seemed like endless amounts of packing had lead to this. Nervous I found my seat on a Virgin Atlantic plane bound for JFK and waited for the landing. As the plane set off I was thinking two things 1. Turbulence is extremely bad over the Atlantic and 2. I wonder what the next 12 weeks would bring me, I hoped to learn more about myself and develop in a variety of skills but little did I know that my life was about to change forever.

Landing in JFK my biggest worry was navigating one of the largest cities in the world, New York. The big apple felt like a labyrinth to me and as I made my way through the crowds of people to my hostel for the night. I realised that this was only the start to my newest journey.

Camp Harlam Pt. 2

Arriving at the Port Authority the following day made the reality sink in even harder that what I had signed up for was finally beginning. Being greeted by two random guys from camp, Jack and Mitchell. I realised that the experience might not be all that bad (besides having to lug a twenty kilogram rucksack around NYC due to it breaking). From the outset everyone was extremely friendly and arriving at camp I heard an array of  “Welcome Home.” from multiple different people. Something which initially sounded stupid, but would later have a profound effect on me.

Upon arrival I was instantly worried about how I would fit in with such a wide and different variety of people. From Jewish to Hindu, women and men, gay and straight there were so many amazing and contrasting counselors that I immediately knew no matter what, I would fit in somewhere.

During staff week I continued to bond with everybody and began to fit in to my new role as a camp photographer, it allowed me to branch out in to an area of interest as well as be in such a different yet brilliant setting. The events that followed that week really were crazy and as we prepared for the almost five hundred campers that were about to arrive, I reflected on becoming not only a role model but also someone who these kids would trust and believe in. Which despite scaring me, had me more prepared than ever to continue my journey.

Camp Harlam Pt. 3

Staff week flew by and before I knew it the campers had arrived and I was surrounded by hundreds of kids relying on us to give them the best summer that they’ve ever had at camp. Taking an endless amount of pictures and stumbling through almost every Hebrew prayer were just some of the challenges that faced me over the coming weeks. However, despite these challenges seeming daunting the twelve weeks ahead of me would allow me to grow so much and multiple obstacles such as screaming kids and long days would show me how to overcome any challenge that faced me.

As time past Harlam truly was becoming home, through the colour wars and bunk hopping to Shabbat and song session. The campers and staff alike were truly beginning to feel like family. But next faced the hardest obstacle of all… saying goodbye.

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Camp Harlam Pt. 4

So after nine long weeks of working hard, becoming a leader and changing my entire perspective of what working at camp would be like. It was time to say goodbye, not only to camp but to the nearly one hundred friends that I had met. As the tears started to flow, I realised how very much I loved the people that surrounded me and how the friendships that I had made would last a lifetime. As I began my last breakfast at Camp Harlam for 2017, I reflected on the nine weeks that had just past and how the experience had transformed everyone in different ways. The campfires, the late nights, the stargazing and not to forget the task of looking after nearly five hundred kids. Of course we were tired (well nearer exhausted) but we had overcome so much and were better people for it.

Camp Harlam has changed me forever and I am definitely a better person because of it. As I approached the gates for the last time on my way to begin my travelling, there was only one last thing to say… until next time Harlam.

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Chicago

Arriving in Chicago, I realised immediately why American’s have nicknamed it “The Windy City” the brisk wind definitely was a surprise after nearly forty degree weather for the last three months. Despite this, I certainly wasn’t going to be deterred by the weather, the city had so much life and culture to offer and I was determined to discover every bit of it. Dumping my suitcase off at the hostel in Western it was time to begin my first official journey of America. Meeting my new roommates for the coming days I was thrown in to a mixed group of people from all around the world, it was then that I met Sarah and we instantly clicked, choosing to explore the city together the following day.

Being in Western, the most dominant Hispanic area in central Chicago. The first food that I wanted to try was a Tamale, these Mexican bundles of goodness originally looked like a Burrito so me being inexperienced decided to eat it like one (making a complete fool of myself) it was then that I realised you were meant to unwrap the food from the husk. Once I had eventually eaten the contents the Tamale was actually extremely nice both flavorsome and filling, I’d highly recommend them to anyone who likes Mexican or wants to try something different.

After rapping up on breakfast (pun not intended) we began our tour of Chicago with a stop at the tallest structure and second tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, the Willis Tower. This 108 story, 1450 foot building was one of the highlights of my stay in Chicago. For only $23 I got to see a 360 degree view of the city as well as stand on the Skydeck a major tourist attraction. If you ever visit Chicago I’d highly recommend a stop at this iconic landmark.

Taking a trip around Chicago I quickly realised how magical and different this city was, I compared it to an urban jungle with the numerous parks and lakes surrounding the city, alongside the Chicago Pier looking out to Lake Michigan which binary opposed the urbanised city centre filled with a variety of shops and tourist attractions. Chicago was quickly becoming one of my favourite places.

My next stop would the Museum of Contemporary Art being more of a fan of modern art I chose this museum over the slightly more popular The Art Institute of Chicago due to it’s more alternative and abstract view on art, something which I really enjoyed. A key artist that I found was really different and enjoyable would be Amanda Williams, the Chicago native focused her art on key topics such as socialism, class and race which was something I found extremely interesting. The primary pieces of work which I enjoyed were Color(ed) Theory a showcase which focused on the demolition of houses on the south side of Chicago in which Williams decided to paint them in a variety of colours to highlight the beauty she had found despite the opposing ideology that the area was common or decaying. Overall, the exhibitions on display at the MCA are well worth a visit, especially if you’re interested in the arts like myself.

My final stop for Chicago was Millennium Park a scenic and bustling area of inner city Chicago, it’s home to multiple great sculptural and art pieces. The best known being Cloud Gate aptly nicknamed The Bean due to it’s shape. Inspired initially by liquid mercury the design if made up of numerous plaits of steel welded together to create a concave sculpture which allows the viewer to see themselves through multiple reflections. The final design is seamless and due to its polishing gives a reflective surface which many tourists see as a photo opportunity (me being one of them). Millennium Park also offers great music events throughout the year, luckily when I stopped in town the Chicago Jazz Festival had arrived bringing with it a wide variety of amazing musicians and singers. Lasting from 10am through to the late night the music festivals are thoroughly enjoyable and are one of many reasons why people stop in Millennium Park.

So after all of this and many more, my time in Chicago came to an end. This beautiful city was a highlight to my travels in America and would definitely be a recommendation for anyone looking to travel. The city itself is not only amazing but the people are extremely welcoming and overall Chicago has so much to offer regardless of your interests.

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Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh home of the Penguins, Pirates and multiple bridges. Many people at camp looked at me distantly when I told them I was visiting Pittsburgh, but I found something about Pennsylvania’s second largest city quite refreshing. The chilled and laid back mood of Pittsburgh was something that initially interested me alongside the multiple great tourist attractions that I was going to visit.

My first stop in Pittsburgh was the legendary Andy Warhol Museum, renowned for being the largest collection of Warhol’s work in the world. I’ve always been a fan of Warhol and especially since taking up photography myself, so I was intrigued to see a number of his works as well as learn more about one of America’s greatest artists. The place had everything and was highly interactive letting the viewer in to Warhol’s life from birth to death including many of his acclaimed pieces, my personal favourite being a recreation of his Silver Clouds piece which consisted of numerous helium filled balloons placed in to one room showcasing an interactive and fun experience which both myself and friends enjoyed. A further standout for me would be his earlier work with Campbell and Coca Cola, viewing his earlier pieces and the way in which he revolutionised not only pop art but the whole industry was highly interesting for me. The museum also included a fifteen minute film about Andy’s life and took you on a journey through his moving to New York and finding his feet to The Factory and his work with Basquiat and Herring. I would say that for anyone stopping in Pittsburgh who is interested in art or just looking for an awesome experience, the Warhol Museum is definitely a great place to start.

Randyland has been a prime tourist spot for the past two decades and showcases the work of the wonderful Randy Gilson. My stop at this location was brilliant and allowed me to see one of the most colourful places in all of Pittsburgh at the same time as meeting Randy himself. The house located on Arch Avenue has numerous amazement’s and every inch is covered in colourful paintings all of which have been done by Randy himself. The ambition of Randy was something that I was in awe of, he has dedicated twenty years in to changing a rundown house and garden into something people couldn’t even imagine, all whilst working numerous jobs. He’s a true inspiration to anyone who has a vision or a dream. Upon leaving Randyland I felt a sense of joy and knew that this place was going to stand for a number of years and bring happiness to a lot more people.

Upon walking across America’s steel city, I realised just how beautiful the place actually was. Pittsburgh holds a really bad opinion from people outside of it and I simply don’t get why. It’s filled with interesting and quint things my personal favourite being the padlock bridge, which holds numerous messages written on to padlocks, taking inspiration from the Love Lock bridge in Paris. The city had so much to offer when it came to things like that and really was an interesting place for anyone who wanted a stay or somewhere to visit in America. Overall, I would highly recommend Pittsburgh to any traveler especially if your artistic like myself or just looking for somewhere to chill, for a north eastern city Pittsburgh truly was an amazing experience.

Philadelphia

The next stop on my American Road Trip took me to the largest and arguably best city in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. Philly has so much life and energy along with a variety of different things to do. Meeting place of the Founding Fathers, Philly was home to numerous historical monuments such as the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall alongside bringing many first to the USA such as the first zoo (Philadelphia Zoo) and the first official hospital (Pennsylvania Hospital) not to mention my new favourite convenience store Wawa.

My first stop in the City of Brotherly Love was the monumental Liberty Bell, commissioned in 1752 the bell has long been a symbol of American independence. Located in the newly created Liberty Bell Center the bell is a major tourist attraction for Philadelphia and is viewed by thousands of people every year. The building itself is placed adjacent to Independance Hall where the bell used to be housed and includes multiple videos about the history of how the bell was created and came in to being. The Liberty Bell is definitely a must see for anyone interested in American history but also is extremely interesting to learn about an see. I really enjoyed viewing it and would say it contributes a lot to Philly’s history.

For anyone interested in arts and culture, Philly truly is a great place with a lot of tourist destinations. One of which is the historical Philadelphia Museum of Art, based just adjacent to the famous “Rocky steps”, this cultural destination is home to numerous paintings and sculptures from across the centuries and is home to one of Van Gogh’s sunflower series paintings. The museum is very overwhelming at first due to it’s sheer size however once you realise how easy it is to navigate you become more at peace with the place and can really enjoy the artwork on display. If you have time in Philly, I’d definitely recommend a visit to this museum in particular.

My last stop in the city of Philadelphia was the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, I’ve always enjoyed walks and seeing the sites of the entire city. The Ben Franklin Bridge allows visitors to walk across the connective bridge and see the entire of Philly. The bridge also connects Philadelphia with Camden, New Jersey. It’s a really awesome walk, especially if you’re looking for a great view. I really enjoyed it and would recommend it to anyone looking to grab any cool photos or really see the entire landscape of the city.

So, that was it my stay in Philly had come to an end. I really enjoyed my time and what the city had to offer. I would definitely recommend Philly to anyone looking for a really laid back and different city that has a lot to see.

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Camp Harlam Second Year Pt. 1

So first session is officially over and returning to camp was just as I expected, sure it had its ups and downs but through the song sessions, colour war and bunk hopping I realised why I fell in love with camp in the first place. Returning as a photographer has allowed me to showcase my newly found skills over the last year at the same time as bond with my new co-workers and grow from last years experiences. The first days as a returner were difficult, adjusting to the changes and becoming at peace with the realisation that my 2018 experience would be different to my 2017 experience were hard things to come to terms with, but once I settled in I was fully prepared to throw myself into work.

So the big day arrived and once we’d moved all the campers in and got settled it was time to start getting involved in leading this group of fourteen year olds in what would become an eye opening four weeks. Changing the way I viewed camp life would allow me to ultimately become a better counsellor alongside build off of my knowledge gained the previous year. Something which ultimately would let me grow both personally and professionally over the next month.

Camp Harlam Second Year Pt. 2

As I began my new journey as a counsellor, I was assigned the unit K’far Noar (fourteen year olds) the same unit as a I had second session last year, something I was initially disheartened about. I soon realised though that every year at camp was different and brought it’s own challenges for me to face. Leading my own way into becoming a better counselor was a crucial part of first session, I wanted to grow not only in my job but as a person so creating a sense of leadership was a crucial part to my summer.

It wasn’t until the Baltimore trip that I realised I could be a leader and fully help these campers have the best summer possible and whether that included shopping in a gigantic candy store for our two hour free time or just chilling at camp during Shabbat, I knew I was doing the right thing coming back.

This led me to being able to take part in one of the best experiences at camp, being a colour war general; being given the opportunity to lead over one hundred campers in the biggest event of their summer was by far the best highlight of first session and despite ending in third place, it taught me that everything I was doing at camp was not only bettering myself but those around me.

Camp Harlam Second Year Pt 3.

So before I knew it second session had arrived and it was time to welcome a whole new batch of kids. We had a switch around in my unit and a few people were replaced, a decision which I initially disliked but came to realise was needed for the overall well-being of K’far.

Second session allowed me to reflect a lot on the summer so far alongside ways in which to better myself not only as a counsellor and photographer but also a person. It was a clean slate and a fresh start for everyone, something which many people look for after their initial experiences.

I enjoyed my last few weeks at camp and threw myself into activities and events more than ever alongside taking more risks as a photographer and adopting more challenges throughout the session. August 19th soon came around though and it was time for the hardest step in everyone’s camp career, the goodbyes.

Camp Harlam Second Year Pt. 4

So the time finally came to say goodbye again and it gets even harder than last year. I told everyone I wouldn’t cry (like they were gonna believe me) but emotions came thick and fast when it hit in that two hundred people many of which I grew extremely close to were leaving camp.

The choice to come back can be an extremely hard one and several benefactors play into whether or not someone comes back, especially as an international.

But the last nine weeks of my life made me so grateful for everything camp has offered me and undoubtably was worth the journey. All that’s left to do is begin a new adventure, starting with two weeks travel across America.

Boston

The first stop on this years American road trip was Boston, a historic place which a lot of travellers usually miss out on. The city had a lot to offer with its amazing architecture and sweeping views. I was only in Boston for a short while and wanted to take as much as possible from the laid back city, I mainly focused on learning about the cities history and how Boston came to be. Learning about the immigration across the decades, trading in Boston and the rise of modern century living in the city meant I felt fully amerced in the cities culture and began to understand just how Boston became what it is today. Following my visit to the Boston historical quarter and my trip up the Prudential Tower, I chose to chill in one of Boston’s many parks absorbing the last of the summer before heading over to the constant heat of the west coast. Overall, Boston is a really fun and relaxed city for anyone who wants time away to a place which has a lot to offer but not your typical big city vibe.

San Francisco

San Francisco, a monumental city packed with awesome sights and countless different places to explore. The first stop on my stay was a chilled out afternoon in Union Square before checking out San Fran’s Chinatown one of the oldest in America. The following day I met up with my friends who I’d be travelling the remainder of my journey with and decided to check out the iconic Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf visiting the sea lions which have resided there for over fifty years and the several tourist attractions spanning along the pier. The following day we visited the highlight of our San Fran travel the Golden Gate Bridge a major tourist attraction for the city, it gave me the chance to view San Francisco at its best and look at the cities amazing landscape alongside seeing across the entire of San Fran, this was followed by us visiting the AT&T Park to watch the San Francisco Giants which was an awesome way to round out our day. Our final day in San Fran was used mainly to chill out and take in all of the cities best parks including visiting hippy hill and the Golden Gate Park before rounding out our time in San Fran with a trip to the Cheesecake Factory. My time in San Francisco was definitely a great experience and introduced me to the west coast in the best possible way.

Los Angeles

So the three of us hopped on a Greyhound bus and headed for LA. Whenever anyone asks where you’ve been in America they always expect one of two answers LA and NYC so having travelled to both I’m pretty happy with my time in the US. Once we’d dropped our bags off at our hostel we chose to hit the beach visiting Santa Monica Pier to bathe in the 36c weather, it was the first time since camp that I’d genuinely been able to relax and just chill, sadly that led to sunburn but overall my first day in Los Angeles was enjoyable and I couldn’t wait to explore the city further. The remainder of my stay was spent visiting a variety of tourist location including the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Griffiths Observatory and Venice Beach spending a vast amount of my time soaking up all that LA had to offer before visiting Malibu on my final day. In general Los Angeles was a great experience, not my favourite city in America but still had a lot to see and offer for a traveller.

San Diego

So the final chapter to my 2018 American journey brought me to San Diego, the city was like stepping back in time. Everything was extremely chilled out and the people were so layered back they were practically horizontal, it was a opposing feeling to what my previous Californian travels had given me. The city was completely different to every city I’d visited before it, I was located in Ocean Beach which was a literal two minute walk to the shoreline it made for a great place to relax and work on your tan. At the same time San Diego had a lot of independent quirky shops which were great to checkout including multiple souvenir markets which were perfect for tourists. I used my time in the city as a way of reflecting on the last three months and my time in America, as my travels come to an end and the chapter of Summer 2018 comes to a close I realised that I’d seen so much and grown even more both professionally and personally, which means that the only thing left to do is get back home have my favourite food, rest up and get fully prepared for my final year at university.

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